Note: Today we have another special guest recommendation! I have a backlog of recommendations from Jesse but they’re all too hard to find right now and this one is readily available.
What Sam said:
Mike, you should watch The Discovery and let me know what you think. I value your opinion and think that you would thoroughly enjoy it. Kidding, I don’t really value your opinion but I really want to talk about it with someone and you are the only person I know with a movie blog. GFY!
At the heart of The Discovery is a fascinating thought experiment. How would you react to knowing that there is an afterlife? Would it change how you live this life? Now imagine you were told that a soul / spirit / consciousness / whatever left the body immediately after death, but with no indication of where it went. Would not knowing the destination change how you felt? How about if you were told that one scientist had evidence of something empirically measurable leaving the body immediately after death, but with no idea what that something is (maybe it’s not a consciousness at all) and with no idea where that something might go?
The latter scenario is where this film begins – science has reported something measurable leaving the body and society has, as it does, filled in all the unknowns with assumptions. The most immediate result of this is that a not insignificant number of people across the world kill themselves under the assumption, or at least expectation, that there is another plane of existence and – crucially – that it is better.
There is a lot to consider in this thought experiment. To start with, there is the obvious problem of determining what biological or physical occurrences would be convincing as evidence of a consciousness that can exist separate from the body. Then of course there is the problem of figuring out where that consciousness actually goes. Interesting questions for sure, but these are in fact not the point of the film. While the science considerations are distracting (they definitely distracted me at first), the real point of this film is to explore how science fits into society at the crossroads of the empirical colliding with the spiritual.
It’s typically accepted that religion won’t give concrete evidence for its assertions – indeed many would argue that faith without evidence is the point of faith. This of course is almost anathema to science, which has at its core tenant that assertions must be verifiable and reproducible. And yet, a case could be made (as I think it is being made in this film) that society doesn’t necessarily hold science to its own standard. The exploitation of scientific reporting by news media looking for anything sensational to sell advertisements is undoubtedly a concerning trend, but this is only possible because society is just as inclined to accept the word of science as it is the word of spiritual leaders – and just as likely to get these words very confused.
The Discovery isn’t about the idea of an afterlife, it’s an indictment of a society that is willing to take on faith (whether spiritually or scientifically) the notion of something beyond. The implication is that people want so badly to find something better, that they are willing to accept anything that will help substantiate their hope. Belief in an afterlife is a potent example to make that point, but it can just as easily be applied to any issue that science and religion makes claims about – so, everything really. And in making this case, the film highlights the hypocrisy of expecting science to take responsibility for not having all the answers, while allowing religion to actually rely on not having all the answers.
Unfortunately, the narrative gets a little off track nearing the end as it attempts to actually make some sense of the science that it invents. I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending so that the main questions could stick with the audience rather than allowing everything to be confused by complicated alternate realities.
Beyond the main focus, I liked most other aspects of the film. Robert Redford was fairly convincing as the (initially) socially clueless scientist and Jason Segel was equally believable as the reluctant skeptic; though at times I felt like I was watching the same character he played in Jeff Who Lives at Home. Rooney Mara was an interesting choice for a role that is almost-but-not-quite the manic pixie dream girl. Her character has substance, but in the end she exists (rather literally) to explain Segel’s protagonist, and that’s a bit disappointing.
On the concept alone I would rate this film a full 10/10. But taking into consideration the odd direction of the plot in the end, it gets knocked down to 8/10.